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Local fastball league jumps right into post-season play

There are clearly elements of post-season intensity as four teams battled it out at the Rick McDonald Memorial Park in Azilda last week.

But make no mistake - the players taking to the field in the local fastball league bearing the same name are simply happy to be out of the diamond, competing. Nothing more, nothing less.

"We had given up, thinking we were not going to get the call," explained Rick McDonald Fastball League president Ben Bast between games Thursday night. "Then literally, just a few days later, we got the call."

"We had an emergency meeting and it took us a week, and we were here, playing games."

Where Softball Canada had issued Return to Play guidelines in mid-June, it would be over a month later before the league would receive the blessings from the City of Greater Sudbury, allowing competitive games to be contested on city venues.

Given the very nature of the sport, Bast was thankful for the go-ahead. "There's not a lot of contact in fastball, and we do obviously have the limits with regards to the overall number of players. They don't want groups mixing."

"We don't shake hands after the games, but really, outside of that, there's not a whole lot that has changed."

Given the time constraints, the league instituted a single round robin qualifying format to finalize seedings, with the best of three semi-finals wrapping up last week. There is a new twist, however, as the group looks to complete their abbreviated schedule by early October.

"We did agree to play a consolation final, just so those teams can get in another three to five games," said Bast.

A mainstay with the Atlas Dewatering North Stars in recent years, Bast is also hoping for one other change from what local fastball fans might have witnessed in 2018 or 2019. "We came off a long dynasty, maybe ten years or so, but we've been two or three years on the outs now," he said.

Backed by the stellar pitching of Casey Abitong, the North Stars have put themselves in position to re-claim the title, sweeping past the Garson Hounds by scores of 3-1 and 9-5.

"Casey pitched well in both games, and Trevor Cain also hit well," noted Bast. "The big boy always swings the bat well. He hits the ball so hard, people get out of the way."

The second series proved far more high scoring as the Bisons stopped the Drillers by scores of 14-8 and 14-3. Already up a game, the Bisons jumped all over the Drillers pitching staff on Thursday, scoring five runs in the top of the first, and adding to their advantage each and every inning.

Rylan Stolar settled down nicely on the mound after surrendering a pair of runs in the bottom of the first, receiving some relief help from his normal battery-mate Cory Kennedy, as well as some defensive support courtesy of Pat Amos.

"Pat followed up a solid showing at the plate, hitting a two-run single and then gunning out a runner at the plate, from left field, to keep the score at 7-2," said Stolar. All of which sets up a very interesting final, set to begin on Monday in Azilda.

"They have really built that team," said Bast of the Bisons. "They're young, they're fast, they have a couple of really disciplined players."

All in all, it's a fairly exciting time, locally, for a sport that does not benefit from a pure youth feeder system. "A lot of these younger guys out here have to be second generation fastball players," suggested Bast.

"There's not too many that are playing out here that come from a background in softball, and not too many that just kind of stumble across the game. For the most part, we hear "my dad used to play", or "my uncle used to play". They know the game, somehow."

"And a lot of the guys who come up have played some hardball."

For the time being, however, it is fastball that is holding center court, the first of the local team sports to return to the field in a truly competitive setting.

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